For weeks now, health care reform has taken center stage in Washington, on every news program, and in contentious town halls across the country. Not even the Army's troubling suicide numbers, the fate of the American POW being held by the Taliban, or the elections being held this week in Afghanistan have been able to break through this non-stop media circus.
After the new GI Bill went into effect earlier this month, it looked like August might actually be a slow time for vets' issues. I was prepared to spend hours watching pre-season football and America's Best Dance Crew. But then veterans joined doctors, the British and everybody's Grandma as the latest group to be thrust into the national health care fight. And maybe it's about time. The "health care reform will destroy the VA" rumors were starting to pop up at town halls almost as frequently as protesters with handguns.
So this week, we got a brief respite from the "public options" and the "death panels" to hear from the Administration about the implications of the proposed health care reform on the nation's largest health care provider, the VA. Hundreds of veterans were in attendance to hear President Obama and VA Secretary Shinseki address this issue firsthand at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention and two town halls in Pennsylvania. They promised America's veterans that despite the rumors, VA health care will be protected.
There are still many unknowns about the direction the country will take with health care reform. But one thing is certain: any national health care plan must ensure that all veterans can continue to take full advantage of VA health care - without added penalty or cost. Veterans groups have been united in voicing this position loud and clear. The VA may not be perfect, but it is a critical part of the sacred covenant that exists between the American public and its veterans.
Despite its well-publicized challenges in recent years, the VA health care system delivers the highest quality services to millions of veterans. With more than 170 hospitals, hundreds of clinics, and Vet Centers, the VA is seen as a leader in the health care industry for its medical research, electronic health records, and patient satisfaction scores. Experts widely agree that VA health care is "equivalent to, or better than, care in any private or public health care system." And while improvements must be made with regards to access to care, the veterans' health care system must be protected.
But we can't stop there. We must also find ways to improve the VA, a health care system that serves 8 million veterans. In the coming months, politicians on both sides of the aisle must work together to improve mental health care, expand rural access to the VA, and improve services for female veterans. With the country now focused on health care, there is no better time to address the unique health care challenges facing veterans.
Yesterday, President Obama pledged, "One thing that reform won't change is veterans' health care. No one is going to take away your benefits. That's the truth." When Congress returns to work in September, IAVA and veterans of all generations will be there to ensure this promise is kept.
Crossposted at www.IAVA.org